By Michelle Railey
When you see Obi Wan Kenobi walking out the front door of the Oaken Barrel, it can only mean one thing: Apple Buzz is here!
Apple Buzz is a seasonal hard cider that has gained a loyal, cultish, and dizzy following among those in the know in Greenwood, Indiana and the surrounding environs. The apples for the Barrel’s seasonal cider are sourced from local orchards (Adrian’s) and the release date always changes: because the date the apples are ripe in Greenwood, Indiana determine the date the hard cider is brewed and when it is ready. If this sounds wholesome and fresh and local and harvest-y, well, it is. And that’s why Apple Buzz has a Starting Day and a Season. Of course, even the brightest things have dark accompaniments. For example, on opening day of Apple Buzz in the past, it is rumored— and there is no way to put this delicately— that on two (!) separate occasions, two (!) separate women relieved themselves. In solids. On the floor. (Two have been confirmed by the staff; other incidents have been reported.)
The regulars refer to Apple Buzz Opening Day as Amateur Night: the high ABV (7.9%; your average Miller or whatevs is, like, 4.5%) of the Buzz catches some novice craft beer drinkers unaware. Needless to say, the parking lot is full.
Many regulars will not darken the doors of the Barrel on the first day of the Apple Calendar or its roughly ten-day limited run. One of the regulars has even, god love him, printed up his own t-shirt railing against the Apple Buzz. On the first day of Apple Buzz, there is a line stretching out the door of the Oaken Barrel at opening time in the morning (this was today, this year) and there are endless crowds. There is a two-drink maximum for the buzz (reference again: dangerously high ABV) and the cases of six-packs sell out quickly. Some of the regulars save six-packs and auction them off around Christmas time and make a tidy profit. Such are the dark arts of the Apple Buzz.
My beloved and I are regulars. We came here anyway, Buzz-crowd or no. The red one drank a mug-full of Buzz. He says it is pleasantly tart and crisp, not as sweet as in previous years, and is a pleasant alternative to his normal libation (the Gnawbone, which the beloved has switched to after the first mug of Buzz). The red one says the Buzz is like chili: the longer it sits in the vat, the better. He says this year’s Buzz would benefit (a bit) from sitting and getting stronger. For me, I sampled the beloved’s Apple Buzz. I thought it felt flat on the palate and I longed for something round on the tongue: meaning, it was thin to me and I needed hops. So after a couple of orchard-like swallows, which I did enjoy and reminded me of happily of orchards and apples and fall, I had the benevolent staff of the Barrel fill my own mug with Gnawbone (nectar of the gods).
It is crowded in here, as ever, for the Apple Buzz, and noisy. But no one has broken anything and/or emptied themselves. Though there was Obi Wan Kenobi (literally, the guy had suede lace-up boots and a full-length, hooded Alec Guinness cape and everything). He may have the Force with him, but he definitely had the Buzz.
I confess: I love Apple Buzz time. It’s like its own little holiday right before the real ones (you know, it’s like a little alcoholic rosary: Apple Buzz to Halloween to Thanksgiving to Oaken Barrel’s seasonal Epiphany* to Christmas to New Year’s to the next Amateur Night, also known as New Year’s Eve). The air at the Barrel is filled with excitement and people and, well, apple-flavored possibilities. I love the fact that every year’s batch of Apple Buzz has its own character just as every apple has its character: what the soil was, how the weather fared, was there rain? The brewer’s hands matter. The time in the vat and which vat matter. You can’t get more local or fresh or seasonal than Apple Buzz, not unless you grow things in your own yard. The Apple Buzz is Greenwood, Indiana, in the year it was made. It is unique and special. Like a snowflake or a finger print. My hop-craving heart just wishes it felt rounder on the palate and earthier in its vibe.
But judging from the lady in the filmy black lace top who just ran past the windows twice, I’m one of the only ones.
So get to the Oaken Barrel while the Apple Buzz is still here. Get it while you can. (Buy a sixer and put it in your garage. Let it mellow. When the daffodils are in bloom, open one. The smoke of the fall will meld with the green of spring, and it will be like having the world on a damn string.) The Apple Buzz will sell out quickly; it always does (300 of 900 cases sold today. Today, people. FYI.). Just, you know, watch your step maybe.
*Epiphany is a dark seasonal ale hand-crafted by the good folk at the Oaken Barrel. It always comes out before Christmas. It never leads to a personal epiphany. Weirdly, people have not yet figured out that it has a higher (!) ABV than does Apple Buzz and so it does not attract newbies to flock to the doors.